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ginny branch stellinginterviewswhat's in your toolbox

what’s in your toolbox: deanne cheuk

by Grace Bonney


[today i’m so thrilled to welcome ginny branch stelling to the d*s team! ginny will be joining us for a new column that looks inside the toolbox of some of our favorite artists. we’ll learn about their tools of the trade, how their work comes together, what they listen to for inspiration, and their advice for young artists. welcome, ginny!]

Ladies and Gentleman, I would LOVE to present to you one of Design*Sponge’s favorite artists of the 21st century! It is no secret, Deanne Cheuk has been quite the darling around these here parts since the beginning, and I am so pleased to give you all a glimpse into her creative world. Deanne is a celebrated graphic designer whose talented range from handcrafting unconventional lettering out of string to creating beautifully abstracted charcoal drawings and exquisite fashion illustrations/prints/patterns. Deanne took the time out of her wildly busy schedule (she just launched her web shop with laser cut artwork!) to reveal her tools-of-the trade and answer a few questions for us. Without further ado, here is your first look inside inner workings of new york based artist, Ms. Deanne Cheuk!


1. Design*Sponge: What is in your toolbox? What tools products can you not live without? This can be anything from a specific type/brand of marker, paper, computer program, paint, or vintage notebook, antique calligraphy pen, etc.

Deanne Cheuk: A lot of of charcoal in different forms: compressed, pencils, charcoal powder – the charcoal powder is my favorite, it is the lightest, darkest, messiest substance.

2. Design*Sponge: Fill in the blank, “when I am in my studio, I feel ready to make a beautiful mess .”

CLICK HERE for the rest of Deanne’s interview, her creative music playlist, and to read her advice for young artists!


3. Design*Sponge:What are on the top shelves of your inspiration library at the moment? This can be books, blogs, magazines, newspapers, comic books, anything at all!

Deanne Cheuk: Greg from Big Active told me about the Fairburn System of Visual Reference which I love.

4. Design*Sponge: How do you combat creative blocks? What tools do you use to keep your creativity flowing?

Deanne Cheuk: I don’t really get creative blocks – I have so little time between anything to get blocked because I’m always working on way too many things at    once. I’m always filled with ideas and inspiration that comes from all over – magazines, books, museums, art, friends, the internet of course, and just from New York in general. I forget more than I can remember-to-use as inspiration.

5. Design*Sponge: You are quite the renaissance gal when it comes to your artistry, and your body of work is extremely varied! Of all the different creative outlets, do you have a favorite? What would you like to learn/ conquer next?

Deanne Cheuk: I am all about charcoal at the moment, I have always loved working on paper and am often a perfectionist with my work, working with charcoal has been a great way for me to overcome everything being neatly drawn or painted, I like that I can make a mess but keep working over it, it’s also quite a sculptural process as I push the charcoal around and mold it to how I want it to look. I’ve also starting working more with lasercutting which has been really fun. I will be posting the fireworks lasercut for sale this week.


6. Design*Sponge: In a sentence, what advice would you give to young, aspiring illustrators? It is a very competitive field, and any advice would be much appreciated!

Deanne Cheuk: I always give the same advice – “Create – Don’t imitate!” If your work is new and fresh and good – it WILL be noticed.

7. Design*Sponge: If you could peek inside the toolbox/studio of any artist/designer/craftsman(dead or alive) who would it be?

Deanne Cheuk: I am quite intrigued by artists that verge on obsession with their techniques like Sebastian Bremer and Ricky Swallow, I’m very curious to see how they both work – mostly to make sense of it for myself because the consistent attention to detail seems so obsessive.


8. Design*Sponge: What does your daily agenda book/ planner look like? Would you mind scanning in/taking a photo of a “to-do list” of yours?
Deanne Cheuk: It is crazy, for starters it is May and in my design work I am working on concepts for Christmas. My to-do list is long and messy, which is also how I describe my days! I work during the day on commercial projects and at night on art projects.

9. Design*Sponge: Where do you like to shop for inspiration? This can be your favorite museums, coffee shops, stores, libraries, any place that recharges your creative juices.

Deanne Cheuk: I buy alot on ebay, it’s a great resource for vintage fabrics and patterns, any and every book, and just overall randomness.

10. Design*Sponge: If you had to make a mix-tape of songs that are inspiring you at the moment, what would they be?

Deanne Cheuk:
1. Hey Baby (New Rising Sun), Jimi Hendrix
2. Come Forward, Dirty Projectors
3. Woodfriend, Miles Benjamin
4. All We Want, Baby, Is Everything, Handsome Furs
5. The Melody of a Fallen Tree, Windsor For The Derby
6. Dreams [Fleetwoodmac cover], The Morning Benders
7. Roscoe (Beyond the Wizards Sleeve Mix), Midlake
8. Beach House, Cave Singers
9. One For The Catholic Girls, Simon Joyner10. Everywhere, Fleetwood Mac


here are the tools to recreate deanne’s tool kit:
1. general’s charcoal powder [$9.25]
2. golden acrylic’s carbon black paint [$8.36]
3. yatsutomo liquid sumi ink [$11.32]
4. kneaded erasers [.$.58-.$99]
5. blending stump [set of 12, varies by size $1.79-$2.56]
6. lasercutting machine information/services

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